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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Pryfogle

Amid Crisis, Watch Your Projections

Here's a Post-It note for a turbulent time: People respond to crisis in different ways.

Some deny the crisis, others embrace it. Some batten down the hatches, others take their posts. Some run from the fire, others run into it. And some do all the above, from one moment to the next.

So leaders should be curious about people's responses to crisis, and then work with however people show up.

The key to such curiosity and flexibility amid crisis is this: Leaders should not project their own reactions onto an entire system.

Case in point: From all the stories and social media of the past few months, we would not be wrong to conclude that many clergy seem overwhelmed. The shift from in-person religious community to digital life taxes clergy's energy while the uncertainty and tenuousness of that new life takes a psychic toll.

In this crisis it is very easy for clergy to slip into the royal "we" and describe their entire congregation as being overwhelmed. And, because of that undeniable stress, the congregation can't do anything but wait for the stress to abate. Other responses are not contemplated. For a congregation, that means discernment is delayed, planning postponed, creativity deferred.

Obviously, the clergy's projection onto the system is not good for the system.

But there is another way to lead. I'm working with a pastor who acknowledges she is overwhelmed but understands that others in her congregation may feel differently.

When I proposed inviting lay leaders to join me in exploring models of creative repurposing of the church property for community benefit -- right in the midst of this crisis – the pastor sent the invitation. Other leaders would not have done the same. In fact, they would have nixed my proposal with the certainty that they need to "protect" their people from additional tasks or anxieties.

Well, nine lay leaders said Yes to the invitation. And for the past six weeks they have been fully engaged in reading, research, interviews, and conversations with each other about what they are learning. They are curious and generative. I feel their hopefulness each time we talk.

I have a suspicion they appreciate that someone acknowledged their individual response to these times.

I think they are grateful that someone gave them room to respond as they will.

And I think they have even greater respect for their leader because she respected them.

(But that may be me projecting.)

Daniel Pryfogle is cofounder and CEO of Sympara.


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